Egypt’s Islamists butt heads over helping wives at home

The Muslim Brotherhood does not grant women equal status in the movement or allow them to vote in internal elections.
Sunday 05/01/2020
An Egyptian man and his wife pose at their vegetable shop in Cairo.     (Reuters)
For better or worse. An Egyptian man and his wife pose at their vegetable shop in Cairo. (Reuters)

CAIRO - The Muslim Brotherhood expressed disagreement with a Salafist campaign encouraging men to help their wives at home.

The drama between Egypt’s two largest Islamist forces began when the Salafist al-Nour Party began an online campaign urging men to help their wives with household chores.

“Men will be demonstrating their love for their wives by helping them at home,” campaign founder Abdurrahman Suleiman said.

Suleiman received positive feedback from fellow Salafists who said they liked the idea of challenging social taboos surrounding men taking on domestic responsibilities.

Some al-Nour members criticised the drive but many others began helping their wives at home. Some men posted photos of themselves washing dishes. Others were photographed cleaning floors and cooking.

Many women said they were grateful that the campaign encouraged their spouses and male relatives to lend a hand at home.

“I returned home today and could not believe it when I discovered that my father and my brother had cleaned the house for my mother for the first time,” one woman wrote on Suleiman’s Facebook page.

The Muslim Brotherhood responded to the campaign with ridicule and sarcasm, arguing it was a distraction from Egypt’s more pressing issues and demeaning to men.

Haitham Abu Khalil, a Muslim Brotherhood member and TV host, said that, instead of addressing Egypt’s deteriorating conditions, members of al-Nour were “washing dishes and chopping jute mallow leaves for their wives.”

“There are 60,000 detainees in Egypt,” Abu Khalil said. “Do not you care about their suffering?”

Another member of the Muslim Brotherhood mocked the Salafists for being “fossilised.”

Driving the animosity between the two Islamist forces are deep political rifts that go back years.

Having united after Egypt’s 2011 uprising, Salafists turned their back on former Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi, a Brotherhood leader, when popular protests broke out against him.

After Morsi’s overthrow, Salafists curried favour with the Egyptian Army, further antagonising the Muslim Brotherhood.

While old political grudges are likely fuelling the rift, it is also revealing the groups’ attitudes towards women, analysts said.

“Both groups harbour nothing but disdain for women,” said Sameh Eid, an analyst specialising in Islamist affairs. “They have a strong belief that women are lacking at the intellectual level.”

Egyptian Salafists have often faced criticism for denying women equal representation in state institutions and in the judiciary.

In 2012 parliamentary elections, Salafist parties that fielded female candidates did not include photos of the candidates in their campaign ads, using instead pictures of flowers.

The Muslim Brotherhood does not grant women equal status in the movement or allow them to vote in internal elections. “Equality between men and women as an idea is totally foreign to the Muslim Brotherhood,” Eid said.

Salafists and the Muslim Brotherhood greatly influence how Egyptians view women, observers said. From the 1960s through the 1980s, the groups convinced many women attending university or employed at state institutions to cover up. The groups have been criticised for practising polygamy and marrying underage girls.

“The two groups have always marginalised women and psychologically suppressed them,” said women’s rights advocate and director of Egypt’s Liberal Democracy Institute Dalia Ziada. “Tens of thousands of women paid dearly because of this practice and also because of the edicts issued by Islamist scholars and followed by the general public.”